Staunton, September 10 – A new study of Russian policy in Latvia suggests that Vladimir Putin assumes that Moscow can rely on the selfishness and greed of elites across the former Soviet space to get what it wants, a conclusion that fits many of the facts but that has brought a sharp rejoinder from a former Russian foreign ministry specialist on the Baltic countries.
In their new book, Ethnic Russians of Latvia at the Turn of the Centuries (in Russian: Riga, Aveerti-R, 2017), Tatyana Zhdanok and Miroslav Mitrofanov argue that Moscow’s policy toward Latvia and other parts of the former Soviet space changed radically in 2003. On page 191, they write the following:
“After 2003, ‘a super-pragmatic’ approach toward the post-Soviet countries took the upper hand. This approach was based on faith in the diktat of economic interests. It was assume that the elites of the post-Soviet countries could not reject the personal profits they would gain from economic cooperation with wealthy Russia and that over time this should lead to the resolution of all political conflicts among the states.
“Political technologists and oligarchs of post-Soviet Russia transferred to the post-Soviet elite in neighboring countries their own vision of the world, without taking into account the cultural distinctions, historical phobias, and internal solidarity of the political elites of the former ‘national’ republics of the USSR.
“Russians refused to understand that there are limits to selling out and that it is impossible to construct strategic relations between countries only on the basis of economic profit.”
Not surprisingly, this analysis, as close as it fits the facts, has been sharply rejected by Russians. Mikhail Demurin who earlier supervised relations with the Baltic countries for the Russian foreign ministry and is now a leading commentator for the Regnum news agency, is among the sharpest critics (regnum.ru/news/polit/2319551.html).
In a new article, he argues that Zhdanok and Mitrofanov are wrong in their reading of the March 2003 memorandum prepared by Nikita Ivanov, Modest Kolerov and Gleb Pavlovsky entitled “Is the Russian government effectively defending the country’s national interests. The need and potential of active measures in the Baltics” (regnum.ru/news/96738.html).
That memorandum argued, Demurin says, that Moscow needs to more clearly define its national interests in the Baltic countries and former Soviet republics more generally and to consider all the levers it can use to achieve Russian goals. It did not, he insists, limit Moscow to the “’super-pragmatic’” approach Zhdanok and Mitrofanov outline.